Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Last Softball Game of the Season

From the Daily:

Rappin With Robert

The University's study of the Northern Alignment light-rail route reaffirmed its preferred route through Dinkytown. Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed funding for that project, but there's still a few weeks left in the legislative session. Would a delay help or hurt the University's stake in this project?

In fairness, we do not have all the information we need to make a judgment as to which direction is the best one to take.

Based upon our early findings, we believe the Northern Alignment ... is the best way to go.

We think it's likely to be cheaper to build. Perhaps it would require tens of millions of dollars less in what they call mitigations costs.

The train would then go to the part of the campus and through a community that will represent the most promising areas for development in the next 20 to 50 years.

This plan would be building for the future, not building the train for the past.

Would a delay give the school more time to gather more support for the Northern Alignment?

I personally do not accept the argument that this will take more time and cost more money. I actually think that's an excuse. If you can build a bridge, a very complex bridge, in a year, construct a football stadium in two years, you ought to be able to engineer about a mile and a half of railroad track and still keep on schedule and get this in to the federal government on time.

I may not understand some of the complexities here, and I'm willing to listen to those arguments, but I think we should work with the idea that we're going to try to keep this on time and schedule. If the money is not there and the project is delayed, then we'll deal with that particular issue.

But I will not be very happy, and the University's Board of Regents will not find it acceptable to plan this train and develop this train ... without listening to the legitimate views and concerns that we have about it and what its impact will be on the University and the surrounding communities.

I'll be honest with you, I haven't been particularly impressed with the way this project has approached the University of Minnesota, but we're still deeply committed to getting to the right answer.

With only a few weeks left in the legislative session, how optimistic are you that any higher education bills that are passed won't undercut the University too much?

I'm guardedly optimistic.

The budget of the state is in very deep trouble and we anticipate that the state will have a billion dollar budgetary shortfall. The governor recommended that the University receive nearly a 4 percent decrease in this next year.

The Legislature has proposed something quite a bit lower than $27.5 million dollars; it'd be more like $10 million dollars.

If we had to take $27.5 million in a state reduction, it would be very difficult this next year.

It's quite likely we won't know until sometime in the middle of May.

Let's say that University funding takes a big hit. What's the next step in making sure this school is affordable for students?

That's one of the central questions facing the University of Minnesota and all of higher education.

During the last four years, we've raised about $230 million in new money for scholarship support, most of it for undergraduate students.

We will do everything possible to balance the University's budget without asking for a tuition increase. So we're going to first cut our budgets, reduce our investments that we feel we need to make in areas to maintain quality and the excellence of the University.

You've mentioned fundraising a lot. Is that the only way the University can help combat tuition hikes, or are there new policies or programs that could help?

The University has engaged in very serious attempts to reduce its costs.

Despite the enormous increase in energy costs in our society, the University of Minnesota has actually decreased its energy costs by about $5 million this year. Prescription drug costs for its employees have been reduced by $8 million this year. We're looking for other ways to reduce costs.

Let's hope that a new regime at the Daily next year does a better job of extracting information from OurLeader as well as asking him the hard questions about his ambitious aspirations. For the good of the students, faculty, staff, and citizens of the state, let's not have another series of kitten ball games again next year.

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